We don’t fear much anymore, and that scares people in power

Cindy Sheehan flashes a peace sign outside the White House.

Cindy Sheehan lost her son,Casey, four years before I lost my Mike. He was killed in Iraq, in a war fought for power in an oil-rich region, in a country where we hoped we would be able to control the oil.

“I remember sitting out on the front porch the day after he was killed, wondering how the world could just be moving on,” Sheehan says. “People were going to work, the sun came up. … It was awful.”

But Sheehan did get up and move again, and with great determination, to create a world where people’s children don’t die from the foreign adventures of imperialist powers.

She bought land near the ranch of then-president George W. Bush and made sure Camp Casey was visible to anyone going to the ranch — a reminder that public policy has consequences, usually for people who don’t deserve those consequences.

I admired the hell out of her then, as I still do. But now I’ve gotten to know her a bit and I love her. I love her fierce determination to bring about peace, to educate others about the damage caused by wars — even those far away that seem to have little effect on most of us here in the US. I love how she stands up and speaks truth to power — even roundly criticizing Barack Obama again and again for his continued use of drones.

She holds Republicans and Democrats in equal disdain for the policies that perpetuate war and for their support of the war economy that bleeds the nation dry.

But all of us are complicit in these wars, whether we know what’s being perpetrated in our name or not. We’re complicit because we vote for the people who continue our overseas adventures, or we don’t vote at all.

We’re complicit because we should know what’s happening and we don’t, and even when we find out, most of us don’t take action to put a stop to it.

Before the Women’s March on Washington, Sheehan approached organizers to ask that they condemn war and the war economy, since war and the imperialism that feeds it are “the biggest purveyors of violence against women in the world.” The organizers said they would address other issues when all women are free.

“I took that to mean all Democratic white women,” Sheehan says.

Someone suggested she hold a mock women’s march on the Pentagon, and she decided a real march would be more effective. She set the date for Oct. 21 and put it up on social media (it’s on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/events/184236778838247/), with a Children’s Peace Festival the day before. Immediately, people started jumping on board, eager to help.

Most of the people who have become involved in the march so far are women, Sheehan says.

Sheehan is criticized often for her in-your-face style, but I agree with her and it’s my preferred style as well. Not everyone can stand up after the loss of a child and speak publicly to confront those responsible. It’s a skill some of us are born with, and it helps me fell less alone. I’m grateful Cindy and I have the ability to speak truth to power.

“They want us to go away and grieve quietly,” she says. “But why shouldn’t they have to have our grief thrown in their faces? Why should we be the only ones suffering?

“We’re doing what we do for a reason. We were thrust into it and we’re not afraid. I mean, what are you gonna do, kill my son again?”

Sheehan is not polite about her disdain for war, or about her fury at the way innocent young black men are being murdered by police and then vilified by media as petty criminals, as though the petty crimes they MAY have committed merit the death penalty without even a sham trial.

“They can’t lynch people anymore so they shoot them and claim they feared for their lives,” she says. “We are living in a police state.”

When people argue that she’s being unfair, that police have a dangerous job, Sheehan answers by posting on social media a list of jobs that are more dangerous (a higher number of injuries and deaths) than police work.

“Grounds maintenance. Grounds maintenance is more dangerous,” she says.

Neither Cindy nor I asked to do the work we do. We didn’t, as children, say, “Gee I hope one of my kids dies so I can be an activist fighting bad government policies.”

I would be much happier to have my son still with me. His death radicalized me, as Casey’s death did to Cindy.

Neither of us wanted to be a troublemaker. That’s just how our lives worked out, and neither of us is leaving this fight for the soul of our nation until we succeed or we die.

I plan to stand with Cindy Sheehan on Oct. 20 and 21. I plan to demand we stop wasting our precious children’s lives and spend that money on something useful — like creating jobs to fix the nation’s crumbling infrastructure or making college free.

It’s time to listen to the women — especially those women who have been harmed the most by our really bad public policy. We’re not going to shut up until you do. And we’re not going to be polite about it, either.

 

 

 

 

Officials don’t have the luxury of outrage when they’re the ones who failed us

Racist violence by police has been with us for a long, long time. The Civil Rights laws of the 1960s were supposed to end that. Unfortunately, it’s still with us.

 

Last August, Johnnie Jermaine Rush, a young African-American man, was walking home after work. It was late at night and I imagine he was tired and ready to kick back and relax.

He walked across the street near McCormick Field, and he was stopped by Officer Chris Hickman and an officer trainee who was with him that night. They claimed he was jaywalking, which isn’t really possible where he crossed because there’s no crosswalk. To make the charge even more absurd, tens of thousands of baseball fans cross in that same spot every year before and after baseball games, and there are no jaywalking tickets issues to any of them.

Rush got scared and ran. I say he was justified, especially since Hickman caught up with him and beat the crap out of him.

The incident wasn’t made public. The supervisor who interviewed Rush when he complained didn’t believe him. That interview was part of the “change” in procedures when a citizen complains, and the sergeant who interviewed Rush called him a liar.

To be clear, I think real change means that any new procedures have to work, and I think the sergeant who called Rush a liar should be fired. That’s the only way you prove we mean it when we say zero tolerance.

Asheville Police Chief Tammy Hooper took away Hickman’s gun and put him on administrative duty and reassigned the trainee to another officer. It took four months for officials to decide he should leave the force, even though a review of all his body cam footage revealed other incidents, and he was allowed to resign. The body cam footage was not made public, thanks to a law passed a couple of years ago by the state’s Republican-dominated General Assembly.

Two months later — six months after the event — someone leaked the footage to the Asheville Citizen-Times, which made it public.

The first reaction of those in power was that they wanted to investigate who leaked the video.

But the pressure was on, so everyone began to act outraged by the video. They were shocked, shocked, I tell you, that such a thing could happen.

But this is not a new problem. Malfeasance has been discovered again and again, the most recent fiasco being the disaster that was the police evidence room, where record keeping was so bad that no one was able to figure out what was missing.

So the mayor and city council released a statement saying how angry they are.

I say they don’t get the luxury of anger because their job was to prevent this kind of incident. They are responsible, especially Mayor Esther Manheimer, and she needs to resign. The police chief needs to go, too, and any member of City Council who knew about this. They don’t deserve another chance.

The video was shown to an assistant city manager and an assistant city attorney, who I’m betting told their bosses. The footage and the incident were kept quiet.

Now that it’s out there, the mayor and council are outraged, of course, and the statement again made a promise of zero tolerance for this kind of thing. Meanwhile, Hickman, 31, was still free and not charged with any crime.

Perhaps because officials finally realized that actions really do speak louder than words, Hickman was arrested and charged with felony assault by strangulation, and misdemeanor assault inflicting serious injury and communicating threats. He is free on $10,000 unsecured bond.

The statement released Wednesday by the mayor and city council promises we’ll do better, but those promises have been made before.

You want us to believe you mean it? Disband the entire police force and don’t rehire anyone who doesn’t pass a rigorous psychological evaluation. Get rid of the bullies and amend the union contract to prevent these violent, racist people from getting away with this kind of behavior.

The council’s statement said, “… Finally, a word to our police officers who viewed this video and were angry or ashamed, or otherwise rejected what you saw. We say thank you. We welcome you to stay and continue the transformation of our police department into one that reflects the best policies and practices available. Likewise, to any officers who may not have been disturbed by this, we want to make it clear that Asheville has zero tolerance for racism or excessive use of force by our officers.”

These words are meaningless when incidents like this aren’t dealt with until someone leaks the video to the press. And when officials’ first reaction is to call for an investigation into who leaked the footage, when it takes a full week for the mayor and council to issue a statement, you’ll have to excuse my cynicism when I call bullshit.

I want to know how many more incidents like this — or even worse than this one — are being kept secret. Just because body cam footage isn’t in the public domain doesn’t mean you can use that to hide violence and racism on the force. I want to know if there are corpses hidden in secret video footage. I have no trust left. None.

I am angry. I am outraged. And I am furious at that statement because I don’t want anger from city government, I want results. Period. I want the mayor and the police chief to resign. I want the police sergeant who called Rush a liar fired, and I want the trainee who didn’t stop the beating to be fired.

Finally, I want assurances that council will implement real change instead of just talking about it.

 

 

 

 

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